Reprinted from The Nation
There aren't a lot of certainties left in the US presidential race, but here's one thing about which we can be absolutely sure: The Clinton camp really doesn't like talking about fossil-fuel money. Last week, when a young Greenpeace campaigner challenged Hillary Clinton about taking money from fossil-fuel companies, the candidate accused the Bernie Sanders campaign of "lying" and declared herself "so sick" of it. As the exchange went viral, a succession of high-powered Clinton supporters pronounced that there was nothing to see here and that everyone should move along.
The very suggestion that taking this money could impact Clinton's actions is "baseless and should stop," according to California Senator Barbara Boxer. It's "flat-out false," "inappropriate," and doesn't "hold water," declared New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman went so far as to issue "guidelines for good and bad behavior" for the Sanders camp. The first guideline? Cut out the "innuendo suggesting, without evidence, that Clinton is corrupt."
That's a whole lot of firepower to slap down a non-issue. So is it an issue or not?
First, some facts. Hillary Clinton's campaign, including her Super PAC, has received a lot of money from the employees and registered lobbyists of fossil-fuel companies. There's the much-cited $4.5 million that Greenpeace calculated, which includes bundling by lobbyists.
But that's not all. There is also a lot more money from sources not included in those calculations. For instance, one of Clinton's most prominent and active financial backers is Warren Buffett. While he owns a large mix of assets, Buffett is up to his eyeballs in coal, including coal transportation and some of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country.
Then there's all the cash that fossil-fuel companies have directly pumped into the Clinton Foundation. In recent years, Exxon, Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron have all contributed to the foundation. An investigation in the International Business Times just revealed that at least two of these oil companies were part of an effort to lobby Clinton's State Department about the Alberta tar sands, a massive deposit of extra-dirty oil. Leading climate scientists like James Hansen have explained that if we don't keep the vast majority of that carbon in the ground, we will unleash catastrophic levels of warming.
During this period, the investigation found, Clinton's State Department approved the Alberta Clipper, a controversial pipeline carrying large amounts of tar-sands bitumen from Alberta to Wisconsin. "According to federal lobbying records reviewed by the IBT," write David Sirota and Ned Resnikoff, "Chevron and ConocoPhillips both lobbied the State Department specifically on the issue of 'oil sands' in the immediate months prior to the department's approval, as did a trade association funded by ExxonMobil."
It's important to recognize that Clinton's campaign platform includes some very good climate policies that surely do not please these donors -- which is why the fossil-fuel sector gives so much more to climate change-denying Republicans.
Still, the whole funding mess stinks, and it seems to get worse by the day. So it's very good that the Sanders camp isn't abiding by Krugman's "guidelines for good behavior" and shutting up about the money in a year when climate change has contributed to the hottest temperatures since records began. This primary isn't over, and Democratic voters need and deserve to know all they can before they make a choice we will all have to live with for a very long time.
Eva Resnick-Day, the 26-year-old Greenpeace activist who elicited the "so sick" response from Clinton last week, has a very lucid and moving perspective on just how fateful this election is, how much hangs in the balance. Responding to Clinton's claim that young people "don't do their own research," Resnick-Day told Democracy Now!:
"As a youth movement, we have done our own research, and that is why we are so terrified for the future... Scientists are saying that we have half the amount of time that we thought we did to tackle climate change before we go over the tipping point. And because of that, youth -- the people that are going to have to inherit and deal with this problem -- are incredibly worried. What happens in the next four or eight years could determine the future of our planet and the human species. And that's why we're out there...asking the tough questions to all candidates: to make sure that whoever is in office isn't going to continue things as they've been, but take a real stand to tackle climate change in a meaningful and deep way for the future of our planet."
Resnick-Day's words cut to the heart of why this is not just another election cycle, and why Clinton's web of corporate entanglements is deeply alarming with or without a "smoking gun." Whoever wins in November, the next president will come into office with their back up against the climate wall. Put simply, we are just plain out of time. As Resnick-Day correctly states, everything is moving faster than the scientific modeling has prepared us for. The ice is melting faster. Theoceans are rising faster.
And that means that governments must move much faster too. The latest peer-reviewed science tells us that if we want a good shot at protecting coastal cities this century -- including New York, the place where Bernie and Hillary are currently having it out -- then we need to get off fossil fuels with superhuman speed. A new paper from Oxford University, published in the journal Applied Energy, concludes that for humanity to have a 50-50 chance of meeting the temperature targets set in Paris, every new power plant has to be zero-carbon starting next year.
That is hard. Really hard. At a bare minimum, it requires a willingness to go head-to-head with the two most powerful industries on the planet -- fossil-fuel companies and the banks that finance them. Hillary Clinton is uniquely unsuited to this epic task.
While Clinton is great at warring with Republicans, taking on powerful corporations goes against her entire worldview, against everything she's built, and everything she stands for. The real issue, in other words, isn't Clinton's corporate cash, it's her deeply pro-corporate ideology: one that makes taking money from lobbyists and accepting exorbitant speech fees from banks seem so natural that the candidate is openly struggling to see why any of this has blown up at all.